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Opinion: Columnists

Top 10 jumbo foundation grants fund Big Green

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Ron Arnold,Columnists,Environment,President,Interior,Sierra Club,Climate Change,Lobbying,Analysis,Fundraising

Although the public image of environmentalist finance has shifted from the 1960s Birkenstock-clad hippie, the results of my new survey of Big Green grant amounts may pop a few eyes.

In the past decade or so, there were 345,052 foundation grants for the environment, totaling $20,826,664,000 (that's twenty billion dollars and change), according to an authoritative database.

In the mid-1990s, I began using $10 million as the baseline for a Big Green big grant, which is what I surveyed this week. That was generous for a single gift at the time, but things changed. Generosity had less and less to do with foundation donations as "prescriptive grants" appeared and took command.

"Prescriptive" is foundationese for "here's some money to do what you're told, and we want an accounting of the results." Environmental groups complained, but pioneer "prescriptivist," Donald Ross, then executive director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, told an audience of fellow foundation executives in 1992, "Too bad. They're players, we're players."

Donor foundations formed cartels such as the 200-plus member Environmental Grantmakers Association and the smaller, farther-left National Network of Grantmakers.

Donors began posting notices saying, "We do not accept unsolicited applications," and "Applications by invitation only." Foundations had quietly taken substantial control of the environmental movement by 2000.

However, I tracked foundation grants to see who was really the power and direction behind the campaigns and protests and lawyers and lobbyists. Today, foundations are the backbone of Big Green.

My survey found the Pew Charitable Trusts at Number 10, the bottom of the big-grant heap with $40 million to Oceana, a Washington-based ocean-only group formed in 2001 by — who else? — the Pew Charitable Trusts, Oak Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund — foundations creating Big Green activists to satisfy foundation agendas.

Number 9: Colorado's Denver Foundation, a "community foundation" with numerous endowments, as distinct from individual or family endowed "private foundations," such as Pew and Rockefeller (both types are classed 501c3).

Denver Foundation gave $50 million to Wildlife Experience, a museum where you go inside to learn about the outside, in five $10 million grants at the same time, a "cluster grant."

Number 8: The Foundation for Deep Ecology was created in 1998 by Douglas Tompkins by cashing out his share in clothing firm Esprit in a divorce settlement.

FDE ranks Number 8 for its $70.1 million gift to Tompkins' Conservation Land Trust, through which he rules over large swaths of Chile and Argentina that he purchased, generating conflicts with the government over access to resources.

Number 7: The Walton Family Foundation (WalMart money) gave $118 million to Arlington, Va.-based Conservation International, a group notorious for meddling in Third World countries with orders from offices that field employees and locals do not agree with.

Number 6: The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust (fortune of the legendary short seller) gave $155 million in similar grants to the Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Skipping Number 5, Number 4 is the Sierra Club Foundation (501c3), which gave the Sierra Club (501c4) and its chapters $186 million.

The Top Three are computer-related endowments:

Number 3 is the David and Lucile Packard Foundation that gave $280 million to ClimateWorks Foundation and two others.

Number 2 is the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation that gave $332 million to Conservation International Foundation and others.

Number 1 is the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with its $341 million award to ClimateWorks Foundation and others.

Now about Number 5, which was actually the biggest single grant, $178 million from the American Land Conservancy to the California Rangeland Trust — Hearst Ranch, for a "conservation plan" with a "conservation easement" preventing future development.

The point of this green-eyeshade bean counting is simple: If you believe the noisy bolster-President-Obama anti-oil-sands Keystone XL pipeline campaign wasn't launched by a foundation (the Rockefeller Brothers Fund did it), welcome to reality.

The Internal Revenue Service ought to look into this.

Washington Examiner columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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